How Does It Work for Holiness?

Session 5 – Part 1

The Pursuit of Holiness in Life and Ministry

We’ve got two units. Actually, they’re probably going to break out in more than two because the last one is very large and full of practicality. In fact, the way to think about these sessions today are that those were foundations and these are applications. So this is going to be, I think, a lot closer to where you live than they were last time. And I hope that helps you.

How Does Faith in Future Grace Work for Holiness?

So my question now is: What are the dynamics of how love or holiness is produced by living by faith in future grace? Because we’ve argued it’s essential to our final salvation — not because it purchases it or is the instrument of it, like faith is, but that it warrants it or credits it or validates it, or is the evidence of it. And so love is absolutely essential.

Faith to Love

And these are familiar texts from last time.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

So I just point want to point out that faith is the instrument or means of love; it is working through love here; it’s producing love. We see the same thing in 1 Timothy 1:5:

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

That’s an amazing statement of the apostle, isn’t it? So this love is coming from faith.

Power to Rejoice

Let’s look at another one, which may not look immediately relevant to this issue of how faith in future grace helps you love people, especially your enemies. But let’s try it.

Love Your Enemies

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43–44)

So there we have this radical, wonderful, beautiful command. And specifically, one way to love your enemies is: pray for those who persecute you. Now, where do you get the power to do that absolutely counter-human activity? Humans don’t love their enemies; they hate their enemies. Enemies make us mad, really mad. I got mad this week at an email I got, and not even from an enemy. It was just kind of an in-your-face friend. And I thought, “Why’d you say it like that for?” We are wired to be negative toward anybody who’s negative toward us. And Jesus comes along and says love your enemy, pray for them. He just takes our hearts and just says, “That won’t do. I’m not in the business of confirming your humanity, not that sinful humanity.”

Great Reward

So staying with Matthew, let’s go back to the beginning of the chapter and see a dynamic for how it might work. We’ve got a link here: “Pray for those who persecute you.” And so Jesus is thinking: “Love your enemies, especially those who are persecuting you.” So we’ve got the same situation in front of us.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

That’s a big promise. And then Jesus breaks it down into particulars:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11)

What should your response be?

Rejoice and be glad . . .

That is absolutely ridiculous, absolutely crazy, absolutely counter to all human fallen nature. You are being lied about. You are being persecuted. Therefore, what? Be happy. That’s really crazy. We don’t feel the force of how unbelievably counter to us Jesus is. How can one be so contrary to what one is by nature? Here’s the ground:

. . . for your reward is great in heaven.

Now here’s the question in relation to love: Which is harder? To pray for your enemies, or to be authentically happy in the moment of persecution? My answer is: It’s easier to pray for them because that’s an act of my will, and I can do it whether I feel like it or not. “God, they’re making me really mad, and I’m not happy. But you told me to pray for them. So I pray that you change those rascals.” That’s relatively easy to do. What’s hard to do is rejoicing in trouble. That’s impossible without the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to that and really believing it, really believing it — really believing when you get up and your body is racked with pain, that you can rejoice, or people are all around your house in a mob, and you don’t know whether you’re going to die or live.

I got an email from a YWAM group a couple of years ago, saying, “We’re not sure what’s going to happen. We still have access to the computer. The house is surrounded by a mob. We believe the Lord wants us to stay because we’ve got a foothold for the gospel here. Pray for us.” Wow, that’s authentic stuff. Can you rejoice? Not if you’re just you, not without the Holy Spirit putting this ground clause profoundly in your soul and your mind.

Battle to Love

So here’s the point I’m making in pulling together Matthew 5:43–44 and Matthew 5:10–12: if the key to doing the harder thing is faith in future grace, and the key to rejoicing in it is believing it with all your heart, then the key to doing the easier thing is faith in future grace. That’s my argument, and I think that would hold. In the Sermon on the Mount, the key to rejoicing in the face of adversity is: your reward is great in heaven. Therefore, the key to loving your enemy is: great as your reward in heaven.

And almost everything I have to say in this unit is just an underlining and a confirmation of that. And you can see then why the battle to fight for faith in future grace is the battle to love. The difference between a legalistic way to pursue the Christian life, and a faith-based way is that you see the command love, and a legalist tends to attack the command directly: “OK, there it is. I’m supposed to do that. I will now do that. I will try to do that.”

And a faith-based person doesn’t attack it directly. The faith-based person looks at it and says, “No way. I can’t do that. I really get mad at my enemies.” And they feel broken. They feel helpless. They feel desperate. They look away to promises: “Lord, you have told me that my reward is great in heaven, and therefore, I can now have joy.” This is the new battle. This is the indirect battle: “I pray that you would open my eyes. I pray that you change my heart. I pray that you’d incline me to these glorious promises. And I pray that joy would arise in my heart, so that out of the overflow — like in 2 Corinthians 8 with the Macedonians — I would break forth in liberality, even toward people who don’t like me.” That’s a different kind of battle than taking it head on and going straight at it.

Good Gifts from Your Father

Let’s see how faith works in Matthew 7. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this logical flow. It’s a very familiar text on prayer, but look at what it leads to.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

It is going to happen. When you are a little child and you come to your father and you ask him for what you need, he’s not going to give you a stone.

Help for Unanswered Prayer

Let me stop here for a little illustration. I really think that this is a great help in unanswered prayer. You might think, “Well, no, that creates the problem for unanswered prayer. It doesn’t solve the problem for unanswered prayer.” But it really does help solve the problem. Because notice what it says: “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?” It doesn’t say he’ll give him a loaf; it just says that he won’t give him a stone. “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” It doesn’t say he’ll give him a fish; it just says he won’t give him a snake. And when it promises what God will give, it just says good things.

I think I can make this statement without fear of contradiction. When you pray, trusting God’s promises in the Bible — like, “I work all things together for your good,” or “My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory,” or “I will pursue you with goodness and mercy every minute of your life.” If you go and you pray for what you believe you need — a job, a better marriage, help on an exam — you will always get what you asked for or something better. And the something better may hurt.

My son, Benjamin, was three maybe. I can picture the scene. Here’s the kitchen table. Here’s the cabinet. Here’s little Benjamin. “May I have a cracker, Daddy?” He’s asking God for a cracker. I’m God to Benjamin; he’s just three. And I look to see if it’s snack time. It’s close enough. I open the cabinet, pull out the crackers, open it, and they’re moldy; they’re moldy. And I pull one out, and I say, “You can’t have this cracker.” And he starts crying. And I say, “It would be really bad for you. It’s got fuzz on it.” And he said, “I’ll eat the fuzz.” I just remember it so clear: “I’ll eat the fuzz.”

What does a prayer-answering dad do? He finds an alternative, even if it isn’t as good in my son’s mind as that. I’m not going to give him a stone, a moldy cracker. So be careful that you don’t elevate the promises of answered prayer to the point where you make yourself the infinitely wise governor of the universe. You don’t know what you need, frankly. You don’t know what you need. God knows what you need. You have desires and longings and little children ought to say that to their father. I think it’s right to pray about virtually everything in your life and ask for what you believe you need.

God Will Show Up

But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here, I’m just setting up the point. The point I’m trying to make is this word therefore. Have you ever noticed that? Maybe it’s so in your Bible. But it’s there, in the Greek and in English.

So [therefore] whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

That’s the golden rule. It’s another way of saying, “Love your neighbor.” Where does obedience to the golden rule come from? What’s this pointing to? What does therefore point to? It points to a God who will: “How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” Therefore, you can love your enemy at any cost. You can give. You can make your desires for happiness the measure of other people’s desire for happiness and do unto them as you would have them do unto you, even if it looks like today’s going to be a really hard day if I do that. In fact, if I do this act of love, the next five years is going to be a very hard five years.

And the point of this therefore it says is: God can handle that. Every day, he will give you what you need. Every day, good things are coming to you from your Father. Therefore, in confidence in that future grace, love your neighbor. Do the thing that looks like it’s going to make life hard, though it is loving. Because God’s going to show up tomorrow, the next day, the next day, the next day, and fulfill this promise. That therefore, right there, is massively important for living the Christian life.

How do you do love in your life? You go to promises like this, and assure yourself: “All right, everybody around me is telling me that if I go to Baton Rouge and take a week off for Katrina relief, I won’t have as much vacation next summer and I’m going to come back exhausted, and, and, and . . .” And so, there are ten reasons not to do this act of love that I feel so compelled to do. What do you do at that moment? Do you just kind of roll the dice? No. You go to promises, and you say, “Lord, is it true that if your child comes and asks for a loaf and asks for a fish in Baton Rouge, and in the subsequent weeks following, that you won’t give me a stone and you won’t give me a snake? You’ll give me everything I need to do my work because I’ve loved people.”

Don’t Look for Payback

Let’s see some more verses pointing in this direction. Luke 14 describes the kind of love I want this church to have and your church.

When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12–14)

Set your heart on what is coming to you at the resurrection. First Peter 1:13 says, “Hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” And therefore, be liberated from the need of payback now. Some people really stumble in understanding my quest for joy, my quest for satisfaction, and think that it means health, wealth, and prosperity now. This is the opposite of that. It’s the opposite of that.

Don’t look for payback now. Find those who cannot pay you back. And pour your life into them by confidence that it’s going to come back to you. Jesus is going to show up someday. He’s going to look upon you and display more of himself to you because of those acts of love than if you had been a self-protecting person, trying to maximize your treasures here. Don’t lay up treasures here; lay up treasures there (Matthew 6:19–20). And Jesus is the central treasure.

Fear Not

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

That’s love. You’re a little sheep. You have a Father as well as a Shepherd. You’ve got a King. Shepherd, Father, King, and guess what? This omnipotent ruler with a Father heart and Shepherd care has made a choice. And he’s done it gladly, with all his heart, to give you his kingdom. Now, there is no logical connector in the text between Luke 12:32 and Luke 12:33. What is it in his mind? “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” In Jesus’s mind, what’s the connection between verses 32 and 33? “Don’t be afraid, little flock. Yes, you’re little. Yes, you’re like sheep. Yes, fears threaten you. Don’t be afraid. Your Shepherd, your Father, your King has made the joyful decision to bring you to his kingdom and make you the beneficiary of everything in it forever.” How do you get health, wealth and prosperity after this therefore? “Therefore, maximize your earthly comforts”? We’ve got a lot to answer for in America. To whom much is given, much will be required. We all live beyond what we need to live. We all pad our lives too much. Me too. But Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.”

Jesus doesn’t seem to mind at all messing us up because he knows good and well that a thousand questions would follow that command. “Well, do we really need to sell everything? Can I have a house? Can I have a car? Can I have a shirt?” And Jesus, I think, would just listen to those questions and say, “Figure it out.” He’s not into prescribing lists. He’s not into saying which neighborhood; which size house, own/rent; which car, used/new. He’s not into giving the details. He’s just into making us feel bad, so that we go to our true treasure to feel good. And then it works its way out.